The Challenges and Triumphs of Being a Product Manager

10 Feb 2023


The Struggle

When you’re in product, there’s always a struggle of how to build a product (or feature) that is both scalable and valuable within the limitations that exists from the internal and external stakeholders.

In this article, we’ll mainly be talking about the limitations provided by the most notorious stakeholder: the client. The client is the big guy, the one who pays and the one with the expectations.

However, it’s important to point out that the client is not the end user. The age-old story is that the client wants something, a certain feature per say, that they think is super cool, but it may not matter at all to the end user.

So in this case, what does the product guy do?

Hint: it’s not about scrum activities or creating a backlog.

The product manager/owner is the one responsible for seeing the full picture of the product in regard to the interests of all stakeholders - including the client AND the end user. After all, the scrum guide does tell us that the product owner is in charge for maximizing the value of the product.

Product managers, on the other hand, should be concerned with budget budget and resource allocation, strategic mapping, delivery timelines, envisioning and creating the product roadmap and are the central person for everything related to the product throughout its lifecycle. They’re that sweet spot between tech and business, therefore they should be the best at establishing a common understanding between both parties.

Meanwhile, developers and clients pose a major challenge to the PM’s vision for the product by requiring some time to develop the features the PM believes will add value to the product, conflicting with the clients’ set delivery time in order to take their product to market to reap the benefits of being the first to market, or in other cases, catch up with the market.

Let's look deeper into the challenges which limit the PM and how we can do our best to avoid them by creating a plan that makes everyone happy.

What’s good for the product vs what’s best

So what do we do when the clients wants a certain product or feature that as a PO/PM - we know just won’t work?

The thing is, the client knows their users very, very well. They’re experts on them - from the business side. So when does the problem happen?

The problem happens when the clients thinks they know the best way to reach their goal digitally - which is the PM’s area of expertise.

Product managers usually work on multiple different products; they know various best practices that would best suit the client’s needs, drawing on their expertise in other industries that can still benefit the same product. The client is not aware of such practices that the PM would rather implement to make sure the client realizes their business goals through taking a user centric approach when designing the product.

What clients don’t know is that PMs take all of their goals into account when designing a solution. Be it better customer retention rates, customer lifetime value, or sales volume. Clients tend to think fast and quick while PM looks at long-term value of the product.

The best way to settle a conflict between the client and the product manager when it comes to the product, is simply showing the client with real numbers and data the growth potential of the PM’s solution. It’s always a great idea to use data from previous products, benchmarks or current market analysis to support their case.

Deadlines are your best friend and worst enemy Who hasn’t suffered from a deadline before? I know I have.

Usually, most products want to be first-movers and reap the benefits of being the first product to solve a customer need. But a short deadline means less time to experiment and build, which could possibly damage the brand if your product does not deliver the customers’ perceived value.

So what’s the big deal about being first to market anyway?

To the client, they want to make sure huge market share. To the project manager, they want to make sure the market even wants the product in the first place.

The solution? Rapid experimentation.

When I was establishing my first startup, I visited the Uber headquarters in Egypt and I remember how much they pushed me towards rapid experimentation. Fail fast, fix fast.

Experimentation should be cheap and quick to bring in the most advantages. Vezeeta , an Egyptian-based HealthTech Giant, launched 31 experiments in less than 60 days to reach its ultimate product market fit and is now a profitable startup.

The experiment doesn’t have to be a whole product. It could be an MVP followed by user feedback, whether through a full-fledged survey or a Facebook group. It doesn’t have to be a big technical investment either: that’s why it’s called an experiment. You don't need to invest much money in an experiment when you have doubts that it might fail.

Aligning stakeholders

Product people should always know everything about how the business operates to build a product that contributes and supports business growth, including how this product could reduce costs instead of adding to them.

One of the key roles of the PM/PO is empathizing with all stakeholders and always keeping in mind their needs and concerns, from delivery managers and account managers, to tech leads, all the way to the board.

Every stakeholders has a different success standards and KPI than the other, so while a delivery manager wants to make sure the product is shipped in time, account managers want to make sure the customer is as satisfied as they could be, and the tech people want to make sure the product works. This is why it’s vital to align all stakeholders on common goals for business and product growth that suits everyone’s interest, to make everyone is working towards the same goal.

So, what should you do? You will always face challenges in getting your way as a PM, all stakeholders will always be focused on their own goals specific to their contribution to the product. The first thing you should do is listen to what everyone aims to achieve being part of the product, then work on ensuring everyone understands your plans for the product, everyone is aligned on the work you’re doing for the benefit of the product and that everyone is satisfied with the end result.

With all the challenges that come with being a product manager, it’s still the greatest job in the world. Stakeholders will always be focused on their own goals and their own contribution to the product, but it’s our job to listen and make sure everyone is working towards what’s best for the product and the end user.

Being a product manager will always be challenging, but that’s the best part about it.

Barak Samir

Barak Samir

Product Manager - Robusta Studio

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